The events surrounding Cooper Union over the past year have largely been oversimplified as tuition protests, but tuition isn’t the real problem facing the Cooper community. Over the past several decades the Board has eroded the agency of faculty and students in governance, rapidly expanded the administration, subtly watered down the college’s mission, and financialized every aspect of the institution’s culture. As a result, much of the community stood disenfranchised long before the first mention of tuition in the Fall of 2011. The administration has charged forward with “Reinvention” while the community has worked to reverse the process and change the college’s administrative structure.
Following a sixty-five day student occupation of the President’s Office this past summer, a negotiation between students and trustees led to the formation of a Working Group to “seek an alternative to tuition.” On Wednesday December 11th the Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet and review the Working Group’s plan, which has been in review by the Executive and Finance Committees of the Board for the past week. Despite the current Board and administration unilaterally rejecting the community’s input over the past two years, the Working Group’s “good faith effort” resulted in a platform of cost cutting proposals which illustrate that tuition is not the only viable financial model for Cooper Union.
Over the past year, Free Cooper Union has issued demands of the Board of Trustees to affirm their commitment to free education, provide increased transparency, and implement more democratic decision-making structures; as well as calling for the resignation of Jamshed Bharucha through school-wide and community-wide Votes of No Confidence. Despite our progress, every advance has been undermined:
The administration has continued to expand during a faculty hiring freeze.
A student representative to the Board was not given voting rights, and was almost called off entirely by the Board when students attempted to hold a direct election.
Last year’s early-decision applicants to the School of Art were all deferred at the last minute to pressure faculty into submitting a report on revenue generation.
Bharucha sent an email mischaracterizing a steep decline in applications as “fantastic” ”extraordinary” and “a strong early decision pool”.
Bharucha has not returned to his office for 216 days, prohibiting use of the entire 7th floor lobby and conducting his affairs from a college-owned townhouse nearby.
Bharucha abruptly fired two Vice Presidents known to be advocates for student rights, just two weeks before the beginning of the fall semester.
The Board is seeking to implement a drastic new Code of Conduct which will remove the judiciary process from the hands of students and effectively allow the administration to quell all dissent.
It is fully within the Board’s purview to repeal tuition at Wednesday’s meeting. If they decide not to, we will demand nothing further of the Board, but something of each other: that we stop our work until we can rejoin the college as active participants in its governance. We are the Cooper Union and it is up to us to rally around and protect our institution.